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Free for All: Preparing for battle in Alliance Warfare


As I have pointed out before and will likely point out again, the MMORTS represents one of the most common genres in MMOs today -- and one of the worst ones for repetitive design. If you've played one MMORTS, you haven't played them all, but you've played pretty damn near to them all. I love the genre luckily so I am able to wade through literally scores of these games in the hopes of finding those rare gems that make me think that the genre is still very valuable.

There are a lot of reasons the MMORTS is so common, number one being ease of delivery. After all, the gameplay in an MMORTS is more MMO-like than most MMOs out there, thanks to layers of persistence. Creating a series of barely animated images has to be much easier than creating an entire 3-D world; surely that has something to do with the spread of the genre.

I played yet another one over the last several days, this time Alliance Warfare. Is it different? Does it just simply repeat the same designs and mechanics from every other MMORTS? Well, yes and no.

Alliance Warfare screenshot
I've learned that if you are going to cover games for a living, there are two main things you have to remember. First, you must play games, as in plural, or you are just covering a game or a few games. Second, that constant play means that you will come across more repeated designs and tropes than a "normal" player might. Professional players can easily become jaded by the fact that game development is most often bland, boring, and ripped off. To find originality in MMOdom is like finding originality in almost any genre of entertainment, meaning it's very hard to do.

At the same time, I have to look at MMOs with the eye of a "normal" player, someone who will play but a handful of games over his or her entire lifetime. I am able to switch to those eyes when I need to, and I tried to do just that as I played Alliance Warfare. I mean, nothing surprises me. I am told every week how a title is totally original or different or epic or like nothing else I've played before. It's usually B.S.

If I were a new player or if I had never played an MMORTS before, would I think much of Alliance Warfare? Well, maybe. The hand-drawn art style is an acquired taste. I like it a lot myself, but today's gamer is a bit of a snob and cannot fathom playing anything that doesn't require an expensive graphics card. I also like the accessibility of the game. It can run on any device in my house but for a tablet or two, and it looks the same across all devices. It's pretty easy to understand and offers a decent though atypical tutorial at the beginning of the game.

"There is city-building. There is research. There is defending your town and attacking other towns. And unfortunately, there is a cash shop that is a little too convenient."

But I look at Alliance Warfare and immediately notice how much it is like other games. There is city-building. There is research. There is defending your town and attacking other towns. And unfortunately, there is a cash shop that is a little too convenient. I've no moral issue with selling crates of resources for real cash, but it's just a little lame. After all, the prices on the items are cheap enough so that anyone can get in on it, but that takes away from a lot of the thrill and danger in the world. I could be nuked to death practically and recover within minutes.

So when I am faced with a game that really doesn't do much that makes it stick out from the last 357 MMORTS titles I've looked at, I have to look for what does make it stick out. Imagine I'm talking about the latest dubstep release or Lifetime movie... there are particular details that some people might really like, and I have to find them.

The community is fantastic, for example, at least in my experience. There is a real nice chatter going on in the world channel at all times, and the players are pretty quick with an answer when questions come up. It's possible that the presence of simple moderators or even employees of the developer in the chat channel makes things as nice as they are. Of course, if the developer or volunteer mod is a jerk, so goes the community, typically. I learned that lesson in several games.

Alliance Warfare screenshot
One of the most unique things that the developer has done is host an official radio station that is accessible right within the browser. All a player must do is click on the link in the top right-hand corner and a new tab opens up to play the station. There are personalities who host different shows and answer questions from the audience. It's so brilliant. As I asked a question in chat, the D.J. was able to answer it live on air in between song dedications. It's such an efficient method of community communication that I would love to see more games use it. The only problem? A lot of the music was contemporary and didn't really blend well with the game's medieval theme. Still, the developers get such respect for such a neat implementation!

Really, the MMORTS genre is probably 85% like playing some form of Monopoly or poker online. You'll see the same designs repeated over and over, so the true enjoyment comes from the particular way that the developer delivers the game. I've seen some amazing ideas for the genre -- just search on Massively for a sampling -- but mostly it comes down to how the community behaves and how the game looks and feels. Alliance Warfare is looks nice, works well, and behaves, well, as an MMORTS usually behaves. The cash shop is unfortunately a typical MMORTS cash-shop in the way it sells goods and buffs. I don't mind the selling of these items, but I've just seen it so many times. Sell something new, please?

The community is really nice and helps with questions, and the in-game radio station is awesome. More games should look at something similar. It has to be cheap, and it's definitely a very, very handy way to communicate with customers.

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to!

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